Tag Archives: NHL

The Great Eight v. Sid The Kid, Finally

 

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 11, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Sports, more often than not, have various narratives that make watching them that much more interesting. Take into consideration Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, in their respected cities they’re both cherished and agonized over.

Between the two of them is about every award one can achieve in professional hockey. They’re the NHL’s version of Superman and Batman. But similarly to Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, these two couldn’t be anymore different.

June 26th 2004, Alexander Ovechkin is selected first overall by the Washington Capitals. Not too long after the draft, the NHL announces a lockout that cancels the entire 2004-2005 season.

Just over a year later was the infamous lottery draft, in which Pittsburgh won, and in doing so selected Sidney Crosby.

Neither of them knew it just yet, but they inadvertently reignited one of the leagues most vicious rivalries.

In the years that followed, hockey fans from all regions lusted for Crosby and Ovechkin. Their tilts included speed, flying fists, and most importantly goals. It all came to a screeching halt in the form of a game 7. Crosby and company were too much to handle as Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals were thumped 6-2 at home.

Crosby would go on to win his first, and only, Stanley Cup.

That was seven years ago.

Believe it or not, we’ve gone that long without a playoff match up between two of hockey’s premiere superstars. Whom were most likely over shadowed by the resurgence of the Blackhawks and Kings.

However, with the advent of the new playoff structure, the NHL has ensured division rivals will meet more often. Excellent. After all, the league needs these two to face off, regardless of the outcome.

After a noticeable seven year hiatus, these two vaunted super stars will bash heads once again. This time there is a lot more at stake.

With both Chicago and Los Angeles being eliminated from the playoffs, many believe that this will be the year where an Eastern Conference team will steal a title from the West.

They aren’t wrong in thinking so.

In the last four Stanley Cup Finals either the Kings or Blackhawks have been crowned champions. In fact, you’ll have to go back to 2011 (The Boston Bruins) to find a Cup champion from the Eastern Conference.

Washington and Pittsburgh made significant moves in the offseason to correct disappointing playoff exits from the previous season. Washington excelled all season long, while Pittsburgh stuttered early. It wasn’t until the closing weeks of the season that the league was put on notice, the Penguins came ready to play. Sidney Crosby found his rhythm and never looked back. While Ovechkin was crowned scoring champion yet again.

While everyone will bite their tongue when asked, “is this finally the Capitals year?” One must wonder, if they can knock off Pittsburgh why can’t it be? On the other side of the coin is Crosby, the NHL’s golden boy sits on one Cup title. It would do his superstar status wonders if he could corral another championship.

Whoever emerges victorious earns instant bragging rights until their next meeting. The loser will spent the summer scratching their head wondering what went wrong.

Ovechkin is a man seeking to put to rest two of his biggest demons. One being the Pittsburgh Penguins and secondly, another heartbreaking playoff exit.

Crosby is looking to solidify his place next to hockey’s best and brightest *even Shawn Thornton has two rings*. Having his name etched into Lord Stanley’s hardware a second time will do just that.

Destined for seven games, this series will have it all. Most importantly it will have curb appeal, which the NHL needs the most.

Grab your popcorn and find your favorite seat because having Crosby v. Ovechkin in the playoffs and a significant chance at a title on the line truly doesn’t get better than this.

Happy Hockey Days.

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Playoff Pandemonium

With both the Kings, Blackhawks, Red Wings and Wild down 3 games to 1 in a best of seven series, the NHL playoffs is in grave danger.

Los Angeles, while not possessing the same appeal as Chicago, has been a reputable money maker for the NHL over the past decade. The danger is within the nature of the game. If Chicago and LA are bounced from the big dance early, viewership is sure to decline.

Now, I don’t expect either of those teams to simply lay down and die, but their level of competition has risen. St. Louis is playing determined hockey and they appear focused on their goal to eliminate the Chicago Blackhawks, whom has been the biggest and most persistent thorn in their side. While the battle for California has seen San Jose take full control of the series.

With L.A., it’s never a good idea to count them out of anything until the final buzzer. Similarly to St. Louis, San Jose seeks their own revenge on one of their rivals.

 

That’s not even mentioning the fact that both Detroit and Minnesota are staring down the same barrel. Also, if your last game is any indication of how your next one will be played, then the Rangers are in deep trouble.

With all of this in mind, the reality of not only a new Stanley Cup champion is very real, but a new landscape that the die hard fans are typically used to.

However, not all is lost. In the East, the chance of a Pittsburgh v.s. Washington match up is appearing more and more realistic with every game. Plus Tampa Bay and Florida appear to be on a collision course with one another. Wouldn’t that make things interesting?

Before I get ahead of myself, I’ll hand you a suggestion. If you haven’t seen the Red Wings v.s. Lightning series yet. Tune. In.

By far it’s the best series of the playoffs. What we have here are two teams with some history who truly don’t like one another. Remember how Tampa Bay handled Detroit last off season with ease? Detroit is certainly making Tampa earn its victories this year. Almost from the drop of the first puck, these two teams collided head to head at full speed and the results have been phenomenal.

Panthers v.s. Islanders was an interesting one to me. Two teams who are certainly more similar than they are different. Goal scoring has come at a premium. Reilly Smith and John Tavares have led the way thus far offensively. While stout goal tending on both sides has made for some extremely entertaining hockey. This one is destined for 7 and the game will be better off because of it.

While I’ll be the first to admit I predicted the Stanley Cup Finals to be the Kings and the Caps, I am not worried. The Kings will bounce back and if the Caps can beat the Penguins, I am feeling very confident. Caps in 7 v.s. the Kings. Quote me.

 

Trending Downward

Consistency is paramount in the sports world. That is, unless you’re consistently missing the playoffs with three or less games remaining in the season. For the Boston Bruins, that has been their cruel reality in last two seasons.

365 days ago Ottawa swooped in late and crushed the fragile line of hope that Boston clutched on to for dear life. Similarly, this season Ottawa entreated a typically hostile TD Garden and made a mockery of Boston’s last second hopes for a playoff spot.

Andrew Hammond was once again, spectacular, aside from a minor hiccup on an arguably off sides play which resulted in Boston’s one and only goal. For the most part, the Bruins were exposed. They showed their true colors after battling hard against a motivated Red Wings team just a few nights earlier. Appearing lethargic and nervous while attempting to maintain their brief lead.

It was a true lack of beauty which killed the beast. Boston went absolutely ice cold when it came time to ante up. To be honest, they weren’t a tough team to figure out. Aside from the Bergeron line this team typically doesn’t score. Speaking of which Bergeron, Marchand, and Eriksson all scored 30 or more goals this season. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you think that type of production will miss the playoffs. Coupled with their inexperienced defensive core who are prone to hideous turnovers and you have a mentally unstable hockey club.

While the loss in it of itself is as close to inexcusable as it comes. What’s most peculiar was the goaltending situation. Tuukka Rask took a very brief warm up in which he looked hazy and lost. It wasn’t until puck drop that we realized he was dealing with an illness. So, playing with the cards he was dealt, head coach Claude Julien started backup, Jonas Gustavsson.

In turn he did all he could.

17,565 fans looked on with pure disgust as Ottawa tagged on goal after goal with ease. Boston’s moral was just as low as the Gardens attendance with just under 10 minutes left in regulation. When the dust settled Boston had the proverbial fork driven through them.

6-1 your final score.

By dinner time on the East coast Boston was mathematically eliminated by virtue of a Flyers regulation victory.

Now comes the fun part. The blame game. Make no mistake, it wasn’t the Senators, Flyers, Red Wings, or even Claude Julien’s fault. It was the players.

Claude will undoubtedly take the most abuse for how this season played out. But it’s hard to win a horse race with a team of ponies. I’ve given Julien plenty of grief in the past, but what he was able to accomplish with this defensive staff is truly impressive. This was not Julien’s team. Last years squad was. But for the most part, he made this season work.

Ultimately, what we had here is a failure to communicate. Between both the management and the coach. To quote yet another movie, this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immoveable object.

You have the coach to win with, I suggest you take considerable time to figure out who you are as an organization. Free agency is going to be a huge stepping stone for Boston. Chris Kelly’s 4 million dollar cap hit is officially off the books and rumblings of a Chara trade are persistent. Boston could enter the July 4th melee with a plethora of cash.

Not to mention they have some good draft picks they could potentially move to make something work.

Regardless, this off season should be approached with tempered expectations. If you’re a life long Bruins fan, you will understand.

It’s hard to ignore the obvious gap between Sweeney and Julien. Its a tug of war match that Julien is deemed to lose.

The market for a playoff caliber coach is quite high.

Everyone wants one and those who don’t are desperately searching for one.

So, unless a verbal agreement has been reached with Toronto regarding Mike Babcock, which is a pipe dream, handing Julien a pink slip is the wrong move. Give yourself another half season to internally decompress, clearly they need it.

Quite obviously they are a marathon away from being a contender, and just as I predicted, they’re good, but nowhere near good enough.

Just yet.

Happy playoffs.

Trust or Bust? Who Won Deadline Day?

Eric Staal #12 of the New York Rangers skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2016 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1.

In the shadow of the NBA trade deadline, the NHL left a lot of teams in need of improvements for the late season push for the playoffs. While there was a multitude of teams who made deals, there were clear cut winners and losers. Which side of the fence is your team standing on?

Unsurprisingly Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman was working the phones hard, and it all worked out. Chicago landed Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise, Tomas Fleischmann, and Christian Ehrhoff. Now, if you can look past the fact that both Marko Dano and Phillip Danault who are talented prospects were dealt to make it all work, than this was just another spot of brilliance from one of the best hockey minds of our time. After all, Christian Ehroff for Rob Scuderi is an obvious win in my book.

I understand you may be tired of seeing Chicago enjoy this much success. Similarly to how everyone under the sun hates the Patriots. But.. too bad, besides the fact remains, once its over, you wont see anything like it for a long time.

Back in the summer of 2012 it must have been pretty special for Jordan Staal. He was traded from Pittsburg to Carolina to play alongside his Brother Eric. Aside from the whole playing in Carolina thing, it’s a unique experience to be playing professional sports with your brother.

Almost four years later it was older brother Eric’s turn for a change of scenery.

Destination? Big apple. Teammate, Rangers defensemen Marc Staal. Yes, they are all related. Carolina has been toying with the idea of trading their long term captain, and apparently now was the time. In return, Carolina received Aleksi Saarela and two future draft picks.

Which is understandable. Carolina isn’t going anywhere worthwhile anytime soon. So, the two future picks and talented prospect is exactly what the doctor ordered.

As for the Rangers they get a Stanley Cup champion caliber center. To me, the Rangers are incredibly deep down the middle of the ice, which in the playoffs is absolutely a difference maker. In the case of the Rangers, who just a couple weeks ago were sputtering, just put themselves back in the conversation.

Everyone and their grandma knew the Florida Panthers were desperately seeking a goal scoring winger. Well, they got more than that. Jiri Hudler and Teddy Purcell are more than capable veteran players for the playoffs. Hudler amassed 76 points last season. Purcell, is on pace for another 20 goal season. Together they should mesh nicely with a battle tested group of veterans and the up and coming nucleolus of youth.

Dallas… tisk tisk. You fell for the Kris Russell trap. Look, Dallas needs depth at the defensive position desperately which is by far their Achilles heel. It goes without saying, or at least it should that Kris Russell is a gimmick at best. He currently leads the league in the biggest pseudo stat, blocked shots. I haven’t even mentioned what they gave up. Prospect Jyrki Jokipakka, Brett Pollock, and a 2016 2nd round pick.

Yikes.

Kris Russell is bad but not nearly as bad as what the Boston Bruins decided was their saving grace.

John-Michael Liles, who I guess still plays in the NHL.. was sent to Boston in exchange for a 3rd and 5th round pick and AHL’er Anthony Camara. Which, again makes sense for Carolina. Nowadays draft picks are like gold, especially for a team drenched in mediocracy.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom in Boston. Veteran depth goal scorer Lee Stempniak who’s projected to put 21 in the net this year is a fine addition. However, I must add that it comes with minor disappointment only because he was offered a PTO by Boston during camp but was let go.

So Boston could have signed him as a free agent but missed out on the opportunity.

I digress.

His leadership should prove to be more valuable than his goal scoring ability as Boston pursues a playoff spot.

With the multitude of deals that were made at the deadline, there were clear cut winners and losers. The winners were the Blackhawks, Rangers, Panthers and Kings. The latter includes Dallas and Boston.

Time is the only indicator to measure success or failure. In the NHL the idealism is just to make the playoffs and you’ll never know what will happen. The 2010 Flyers and the 2012 Kings made the Cup finals as the 8th seed.

Need more convincing? Well in 2014 the Kings acquired Marian Gaborik to add a much needed scoring kick and it ended with their second Stanley Cup championship. Who knows, one of the names listed above could just be the next Marian Gaborik.